5 ways to spread holiday joy this season

The holidays are fast approaching, and while it’s my favorite time of year, it’s often the most stressful. From gift shopping to holiday baking to travel plans, the running tally of things to accomplish can seem downright overwhelming and — let’s face it — not very much fun. Sometimes we spend so much time rushing around from one thing to the next that we don’t actually take the time to stop and savor the everyday moments that make the season so special. Check out our list of 5 ways to create holiday memories, and rediscover holiday joy this year. 

Show gratitude

We are very fortunate to have some really great neighbors. They are the folks who generously share the bounty of their vegetable garden, let us borrow tools for house repairs and the ones we frantically dial to make sure we closed the garage door when we leave for vacation. It’s a convenient relationship but also one that’s easy to take for granted.

This holiday season we’re reminding our neighbors how much we appreciate them and all those little things they do for us by delivering a hot cocoa tray to their doorstep. You can do the same for your neighbors or even your favorite bus driver, mail carrier or day care provider. Simply fill a mug with hot cocoa, mini marshmallows and candy canes for a ready-to-enjoy treat. Include a second mug already filled with hot cocoa goodies so they can easily share the joy with those they appreciate too.


My whole crew adopts the holiday vibe when we decorate the house for the season. We crank some holiday music and drag out the storage boxes from under the stairs. The kids adore “rediscovering" all of their handmade goodies from preschool and grade school and prominently placing their treasures all over the house. But hands down one of our favorite ways to fill our home with holiday spirit is to decorate with the cards we receive from friends and family. Our holiday card display is always the first place the kids stop when they get home from school. They love to look through the cards, read the notes and claim disbelief at how much so and so has grown this year. It’s a great reminder to all of us of the joy friends and family bring to our lives, no matter if they live down the block or across the globe. 

Tip: Don’t have a holiday card display? Create your own! Head to the craft store and grab the largest metal ring you can find. Loop some of your favorite ribbon through the ring, tie it in a bow and hang it on the wall. Attach cards to the display with clothespins. If you’re feeling particularly festive, spray paint the clothespins a coordinating color and embellish with small decals. Whatever you do, make it yours! 

Do good

When my kids were toddlers, paper chains were an easy way to help them understand the countdown to a big event, but they can still have merit to “kids" of all ages. Rather than using the chain as a way to mark off the days until the holidays, use it as a tool to keep the reason for the season top of mind. 

Brainstorm ideas as a family that put the focus on others during this time of year, whether it be visiting a local nursing home, making cards for soldiers serving overseas or shoveling the neighbor’s driveway. Write these ideas on the back of decorative paper strips and create a paper chain. Family members can then take turns ripping off one chain link every day and tackle the good deed written on it. Seeing words put into action helps everyone, even the youngest members of the family, understand that doing for others has a ripple effect that showers goodwill on everyone it touches. 

Disconnect to reconnect

Trying to catch a free evening during the holiday season can seem almost impossible. Not only do you have the regular activities of life, including school, work and family commitments, but we also try to shoehorn in gift shopping, holiday parties and travel. Add to it the “always available” mentality in today’s connected world, and it’s any wonder we find down time at all. This year, make spending time together as a family a priority, even if it’s only for a few hours.

Clear the calendar for one night and earmark it as family time. Establish a few ground rules: 1) Everyone must attend, and 2) all devices must be turned off. Set up your family’s favorite game or grab something new from the store (Pie Face!® is our latest crush). Pop a bowl of popcorn and create some technology-free memories together as a family. 

Lessen the stress

Sometimes there are just not enough hours in the day to get everything done. But no one said you had to do everything by yourself. Hosting a cookie exchange is a simple way to spend a fun afternoon with friends and family while getting enough seasonal treats for yourself and all of your gifting needs.

Keep it easy by assigning everyone a recipe before the exchange (or risk ending up with 12 varieties of the same cookie!). Pick some seasonal favorites like these Double Chocolate Crinkle Cookies and Santa Sugar Cookies, and throw in some new recipes, too, like these PB&J Shortbread Cookies. Ask each guest to bring several batches of their assigned cookie. Have plenty of boxes, bags and tins available for packing. A few short hours later, everyone walks away with one less task on their holiday to-do list and a large variety of homemade goodies to enjoy all season long.

Lisa Riedl and Anna Schaber are the duo behind the food website, Garnish with Lemon. Their love of cooking is second only to their love of eating. Years of answering SOS calls from friends and family about what to make for dinner spurred Lisa and Anna to launch Garnish with Lemon, a resource for approachable, seasonal recipes as well as tips that make everyday entertaining effortless. Their work has been featured in The Huffington Post, The Kitchn, Today.com, The Daily Meal and BuzzFeed. During Minnesota summers, you’ll find them on the back porch swatting mosquitoes, sampling new cocktails and solving the world’s problems, including how to get their kids to eat more veggies.